a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Food For Thought-Tips for Shuls

Posted on: October 30, 2016

14853270_981667618336_7768744794894173703_oA friend I made at Pardes posted the “Food for Thought” (pictured above) on Facebook today and I thought (and commented) wouldn’t it be great if shuls passed these out for JOCs and Multiracial Jewish families? And instead of waiting for a shul to maybe do it, I thought I’d create one myself.

If you’re a member of a congregation, feel free to copy and amend this for your community’s individual needs.

At Congregation X our Mission Statement states that we’re an open, inclusive and diverse community, but it’s come to our attention that not all of our congregants feel welcomed in our synagogue. Here are some ideas about how more long-term and established congregants can live our Mission Statement and be more open and welcoming to our members and their families.

Avoid Saying: Are you Jewish?

Why: Let’s presume that if they’re in shul on Shabbat that they are Jewish. And if they’re not, why is it so important? Just avoid asking this all together.

Say Instead: What did you think of the service today?

 

Avoid Saying: Are you new here?

Why: They may have been attending here for years and you just may not have met them. Saying this may imply that you don’t think they belong here.

Say Instead: I don’t think we’ve met yet. My name is …

 

Avoid Saying: Did you convert?

Why: By asking someone who is a Jew of Color or member of a Mulitracial Jewish family if they’ve converted assumes that because they do not look like you that they’re not “really Jewish”. If you want to know more about them, ask a more sincere question.

Say Instead: Will I see you next week?

 

Avoid Saying: Do you know X, they’re also Asian. Or anything of the sort.

Why: Because two people share the same ethnic or racial background doesn’t necessarily mean that they know each other. It also can make someone feel as though you are singling them out for being a Jew of Color, which can be uncomfortable.

Say Instead: I’m so glad to have met you today! This is my daughter/son, …

 

What am I missing? Post your additions in the comments below!

 

 

An Unetaneh Tokef for Black Lives:

In our hearts it is written, and on the streets it is sealed:
Who shall live, and who shall die
Who with hands up, who holding his ID;
Who while selling ciggies, who peddling CDs;
Who in cold blood, who by chokehold.

In the law books it is written, and in the courthouse it is sealed:
Who with a wallet, who with a BB gun;
Who in a project stairs, who in a police van;
Who in a parked car, who at the local bar;
Who with broken brake light, who on his wedding night.

Who while running away, who in an alleyway.

On the day of birth it is written, and on the day of death it is sealed:
Who a born suspect, who called derelict;
Who labeled predator, who forever debtor;
Who in a classroom of despair, who denied healthcare;
Who in cellblock clatter, whose black life still doesn’t matter.

In truth You are the Judge,
The Exhorter, the All knowing, the Witness,
Who Inscribes and Seals.

So why can’t tefilah and teshuvah and tzedakah
Make a damn difference
Already?

#blm

The Jewish Week is Covering Jews of Color!

Posted on: October 7, 2016

I’m so excited to see that popular Jewish paper and online source, The Jewish Week is covering Jews of Color this week! It’s always great to see Jews of Color getting more press and Gd willing, we’ll no longer need these “Special” pieces. But until that time comes, I’m happy to see it!

According to Chava Shervington, president of the Jewish Multiracial Network, a nonprofit that works to advance and empower Jews of color and multiracial families, the past few years mark a sea change in the conversation about race in the Jewish community. She discussed the issue with The Jewish Week in May, during the largest-ever Jews of Color conference in Manhattan.

“JMN members used to have to light themselves on fire to gain entry to mainstream Jewish organizations,” she said, referring to the difficulty Jews of color have had getting recognition in such forms as funding and leadership roles at communal organizations. “Now that the Jewish community is interested in people’s personal stories, we’re asking them to take that next step. The inclusion and empowerment of Jews of color is essential to the community we are, and to the community we are increasingly becoming.”

Interest in the broader Jewish community about the experience of Jews of color has been bolstered by a number of recent studies indicating that Jews of color make up a larger percentage of the American Jewish community than previously thought.
Read the rest here! 

I have so much to say about this, but for now I’m going to cross post this piece that is more eloquent than anything I could muster right now.

If you can’t see based on this, the countless others who have died at the hands of police in the last 3-5 years, the countless anonymous blacks who lost their lives in Jim Crow South, the thousands of slaves without names or identities tossed aside like trash, the thousands of Africans that lost their lives while being transported across the Atlantic Ocean. If you can’t see this foundation of hatred our country is based on and the ways in which it is constantly perpetuated each day and in the daily lives of Black Americans, then you can kindly see yourself off of this site.

#BlackLivesMatter And we shouldn’t have to keep saying. it.

 Five Things I need from White People Right Now

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MikvahVersary-And a New Name!

Posted on: August 17, 2016

mary's spring

Five years ago today I became a Jew.

It seems like forever ago and like I’ve been Jewish my whole life.

I have fond memories of Christmas, enjoyed getting new Cabbage Patch dolls for Easter, Jesus is alright with me, but being Jewish fills my neshema, my soul. It’s who I am and it’s hard to remember my life before Judaism.

My last week in Jerusalem, one of my absolutely favorite people, one of my soul friends at Pardes told me they had something special planned for Tuesday. The school schedule was a trip to Mount Hertzel and another option I’ve forgotten already, but we planned on skipping and enjoying some precious alone time before I left. The original plan was to go to Tel Aviv, but when they called me to tell me about a well important to women of the Quran, New Testament and Torah I said yes.

The three of us piled into a cab and went for a twenty minute drive to the town of Ein Kerem to a well known as Mary’s Spring (The Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, Miriam). We stepped tentatively 150 feet down into the earth via an iron ladder in desperate need of re-welding to the comforting cool of an ancient well. The Spring is a tourist destination and is beautiful, but a little known fact is that tucked away behind the man-made spring that pilgrims go to to wash is an ancient well hidden in the trees. And in that well, next to two of my soul friends, I received from them blessings of love, fertility, joy, continued learning and friendship. I immersed in the frigid waters of the not-kosher mikvah and I gave myself a Hebrew middle name – רוח. It’s not a traditional Hebrew name, in fact I don’t think I know a single person with רוח as their first or middle name, but it spoke to me and it’s what I wanted to take with me.

רוח or Ruach in English means Spirit, specifically Divine Spirit. It was רוח that was filled within my neshema in Jerusalem, it was רוח that inspired my learning and it was רוח that allowed me to love completely two people who were, only three weeks before we entered that well, together strangers.

So my Hebrew name, in English is, Daughter of G-d Spirit. Which I think is perfect. Happy 5th Jewish birthday to me!

 

So, How Was Israel?

Posted on: August 8, 2016

13576745_10208806618855422_5960017635355263465_oThis is a question I’ve been asked for the past two weeks, and it makes sense. I did just spend an entire month funding for my trip to Israel and then almost one month in the country. Folks want to know. What did I do, where did I go? Did I engage in the conflict? Did I visit Palestine? Did I do any social justice work? Did I connect with this organization or that organization? What did I do?

I fell in love with Torah.

I fell in love with soulmates.

I fell in love with myself.

I fell in love with my neshama.

I fell in love with Judaism.

I didn’t leave Jerusalem, or Baka for that matter, really.

Read the rest of this entry »

13576745_10208806618855422_5960017635355263465_oCan you be a “normal” person and be religious?

This is a question I’ve been rolling around in my head for sometime that is now being asked much more loudly since my return from Israel and studying at Pardes. Tomorrow makes one week exactly since I’ve been back in the U.S and my heartache for Jerusalem and Pardes and learning is still pressing. My first foray into reality was riddled with tears, anxiety and a general sense of being overwhelmed and unsettled. While I did not venture out of my tiny Baka neighborhood, the Old City, or the walls of Pardes, having such an insular and focused reach only helps amplify the lost feeling I’m experiencing and this pull for stronger Jewish community and Jewish life.

Judaism requires a lot from us – 613 mitzvot we’re supposed to live by because Torah says so, to make the world a better place, to bring the Messiah, to be good Jews, to be good people. These 613 commandments are meant to shape us, the Jewish people, so that we can be a light unto all other nations. And people do this, they live their lives according to Torah Law, and it can, frankly, be a bit scary. One of my chavrutas (chavrutot?) shared her experience in an ultra-Orthodox, Haredi home this past Shabbat in Israel, we agreed that there is something really amazing about the automatic community that an Orthodox life brings, but we also agreed that the particular Orthodox she experienced; women davening on hard benches behind opaque curtains forbidden to speak, daven or sing in an audible voice, sharply right-wing opinions, strict roles based on gender, is not the kind of religious life we’re seeking.

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Travel bLog #9 – Heading Home

Posted on: July 27, 2016

I’m sitting in the lunch room at Pardes. Chavruta partners have all dispatched back to their classrooms, as the last twenty minutes of classes for the day wind down. I skipped my afternoon class today to get some last minute shopping done; spices and olive oil, and to pack up my room and belongings to make my way to the airport and back home.

I’ve done a fair bit of crying. It still feels like my heart is breaking a bit. The heart break is to do with the people that I’ve met, to be sure, but it’s also to do with the unbelievable feeling of taking these three weeks for myself. To explore and meet parts of me that I never knew, parts of me that I barely recognize, and parts of me I hoped were there, but needed to look for.

There will be follow up blogs about the actual texts that I’ve learned, texts I want to explore further and the sexy things about Torah I’ve discovered (yes, Torah is sexy), but for now I just want to bask in the glory and gratitude that has been these three weeks.

 

Travel bLog #8 – Coming Down

Posted on: July 25, 2016

As much as I consider myself to be a kind, loving, caring, giving person, I have a tendency to push people away. This usually happens when I know something they don’t know that may or may not be good or bad for them, when a hard decision needs to be made, or when I come to the end of something or have to leave someone. I turn inward in a reflective and defensive way. As much as I love to cry, and do so freely, I also have a hard time making myself really vulnerable to people, especially when it feels like my heart is breaking.

Over the last three weeks I have fallen in love. I’ve fallen in love with the exhilarating, dizzying, mystifying, frustrating Torah (and all that goes along with it). I’ve fallen in deep and tortured love with the city of Jerusalem. I’ve fallen in love with Judaism all over again. And I’ve fallen in love with people who seem to have the ability to see into the most spiritual, sacred inner most parts of my soul. People who I share so much in common with, people I didn’t expect to meet and people I didn’t know were missing parts of my life. It was one of these soul friends who saw me, like they always do, tonight pulling away.

I have learned many things during my time at Pardes and I’ve grown to know several truths. And the truth of the matter is that nothing can or will come close to the magic that has happened here. I may come back to this city, I may come back to this city with these same people, but what we’ve shared can’t be replicated. It exists in this space and time and that time is coming to an end.

In just two days I will board a plane and return to my life. These days filled with study and wonder and frustration and awe and love and spirit will be replaced with life. And while I’m equally so excited to return to my wife and our life, I’m just as heartbroken and sad to be losing this intangible thing that’s happened to me here. My neshama is so full. And I am so grateful.

Travel bLog #7 – Scribe Life

Posted on: July 23, 2016

13615376_10208825174919312_8963435906535991804_n

I’m not sure if it’s purposeful, but after two weeks of study it’s nice to see ways in which the classes that I’m taking overlap with one another. Scribal Arts, a sort of elective, is only given twice a week and I had to pay extra money to take it.

Taking a step back and looking at some halacha (of which I am not an expert) and it can seem to some that it’s halachically wrong that a female-bodied Jew pick up a pen and write, say, a sefer Torah. If one would do such a thing it (the Holy Torah scroll) would be considered posul, or unfit/unkosher. While other text point to the fact that women can, in fact, write a Torah scroll. In fact women have!  There are other rules that apply as well; one must be an observant Jew, one most go into writing with the best of intentions, one must be knowledgeable in Torah. Simply put, it’s not something that one does for fun.

And it is fun!

I’ve been taking this class and it’s done a number of things for my mind and spirit at Pardes. It’s allowed me to stop using my brain in a demanding way and allows the more creative spaces of my brain to take over. It allows me to become more familiar with the Hebrew Alef Bet as well. And it’s inspired me to write a mezuzah for our home. Which is, as the gentleman at the Sofer store informed me, is a really big deal.

13737654_10208866202464975_4891934209742179245_o

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